Though water temperatures are too cold for some species to be very active, the new moon phase and a return to four-tide days has helped.
Mangrove snapper have stolen some of the groupers' thunder on offshore trips, and many reports suggest 90 feet is the magic number. A trip to that depth in these parts of the gulf is about 30 miles.
Gather some live bait in case the snapper are particularly finicky, but most won't shy away from half a sardine on 30-pound tackle and just enough weight to get it down.
Before sheepshead make their push to the gulf for their February spawn, many large females gather to fatten up along structure well inside Tampa Bay. We caught 30 on Thursday with several in the 5-pound range and one that went 61/2. Green mussels did the trick around an artificial reef within a mile of the Gandy Boat Ramp.
In winter, new moon low tides expose large clumps of Asian green mussels on sea walls, dock, bridges and pilings in many places. The Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges are loaded.
A long-handled scraper and crab net are standard tools, and a glove and shucking knife make life easier.
When ready to spawn, large schools of sheepshead leave the upper bay. Some hug the shoreline and can be seen in packs cruising along sea walls. Others use the shipping channel on their way out. In February many settle along bridges near the gulf and marinas and rock jetties near passes.
- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.